A snapshot of now.

Hello friends, travel and hospitality people.. I have abandoned you for too long!  Well, my mind has been racing, and I am trying to put all these pieces together… how will it all fit?  How will interaction by the brand influence, connect, or impact the future of the social graph legitimizing and strengthening search?  *That’s* not even the important question – The real question will be how will a search built off network science control and influence brands?  Will there, finally, be a thwarting of the spam through human powered relevance ranking?  Will poor management styles, lack of interaction, or opaque manipulation of the consumer made to be transparent in regards to the brand?  These are small beans compared to the impact of wikileaks on the future of human government.  If you want to catch up on the *REALLY* important stuff, listen to this NPR Fresh Air episode with Bill Keller, from the NY Times, on the impact of Assange and Wikileaks.  But back to our silly little vertical.

Google search is inundated by spam – even their CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that “The Internet is a Cesspool“, and at the time 2 1/2 years ago, he insisted it would be brands that sorted out those murky waters.  I think that’s part of it, such as a brand interacting with the social graph, while publishing meanginful content to an interested audience that actively supports or bolsters the brand’s online relevance and presence.  But where Schmidt agreed the future of meaningful editorialism or content was in question, I think it’s the tapping into of the social graph that will sort all this out.  People will always try to game search, but the amalgam of a human powered network will wield sorting relevance like a skilled warrior, making antiquated algorithms look clumsy and slow.

The spam problem for Google is multi-layered.  First is the obvious gaming with SEO keyword spoofing.  For those that get brand related Google Alerts, you will recognize these as those random blogs republishing old content, press releases, interviews, etc, often misquoting it or ramming it into other, unrelated nonsense.  It’s a scam where you automate the publishing of online content to try to game search engines to appear more relevant than they are.  They are called content farms. Here is a BRILLIANT article on the “pollution of google” and an impending tragedy in relation to this. Another aspect of this pollution are the legitimate sites that aren’t out and out farms, but still try to game search engines into becoming relevant.  So it’s not just the egregious ones that are obviously spam, but you have sites like Huffington Post doing anything to appear at the top of search results – like their infamous “What time does the Super Bowl start” post.  In fact, it was this post about “Classic books we’ve seen being read” that made me swear off of Huffington Post.  One or two are classics, maybe, but it’s just shameless gaming of SEO.  It’s sloppy, and it’s sort of pathetic.  What I loathe more than anything else are the content laden sites that immediately populate every search, but are insipid and cluttering up of *legitimate* search.  You will quickly understand what I am talking about when I mention all the arbitrary wiki’s with stub pages that lead to nowhere, or worse yet E-How and their littering of irrelevant search the net over.  Oh, How I HATE EHOW (search that line and you get ehow articles on how to accept hate)!

So basically, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc are starting to realize the algorithm is not bulletproof, and it won’t carry the internet into the more semantic stage that is coming up.  The entire landscape of the internet will change in the next couple years, and it will be this innocuous (which is up for argument) layering of the social graph into your experience.  The algorithm can’t work and you *MUST* use human power to create meaning and relevance online and with searches.  Otherwise the ad model will fall apart, and no one will trust the search engines, and we won’t be able to catalogue or find anything*.  So now the “social search” is on the horizon (or – here).  It means that the internet will be consistent and familiar.  An article from wired explains Google’s social search here, but the best bet is to watch this video from Matt Cutts, famed google search guru:



“Privacy”

Basically, advertising is always going to be around.  While people talk about privacy, I realize I rather have a relevant ad than one that has nothing to do with me.  This is a step towards that.

For example, Facebook is now “personalizing your experience” as you move from site to site, aka Facebook is trying to monetize their product by creating a more seamless social experience in regards to marketing. You can turn it off…. But honestly, there’s always going to be ads or irrelevant and non topical spam in your face. Wouldn’t you rather know what your friends reviewed on yelp rather than random strangers in random areas, or when you visit CNN or BBC you can see what a colleague read, instead of the scattershot “most popular” stories. Even better (for the consumer, not just the advertiser), an advertisement becomes relevant. Banner ads are targeted to your likely interests. Instead of seeing an irrelevant baby diaper ads (if you are young and single), maybe it shows you a link to a cool wine bar you might like.  Maybe it shows a concert a friend is going to.  It’s a much more intuitive way to facilitate the online experience, and where end users find inefficiency and frustration, it is this precise movement towards open browsing that has people screaming “Privacy”.  Frankly, I don’t think people even understand what privacy means.

This issue of Scientific American deals with some fairly amazing thoughts on modern privacy – whether social networks bring around the demise of privacy, among many other topics.  I always harken back to 1999, when Scott McNealy, from Sun Microsystems, said “Privacy is over. We haven’t had it for years. It’s a red herring”.  In my opinion, it’s completely misunderstood.  While most online people, especially the younger audience, are cultivating attention to the best of their ability, there’s an obvious exchange of privacy for constant information about our network.  It is something that seems to be developing naturally, and the benefits have been happily accepted, regardless of people’s concerns about privacy.

If you want privacy, stay off a computer, don’t get on a router, and don’t sign into any sites.  Even going online from an IP through a router will divulge information about you.  If you think privacy is the issue here, you shouldn’t turn anything on. Period. It’s the only way. Otherwise, might as well unfurl to the future. Now I am not saying that you should wantonly ignore your right to your own private lives, but be aware part of the internet improving is a slight exchange of your personal information.  All things being equal, I think it’s an exchange I am more than happy to make.  What’s more, the thing buffering my idealogy or indignity of civil rights is this one thing: by in large, 99.9% of us are beyond dull, irrelevent, and completely uninteresting.  Privacy is only a concern for those that need it.  the majority of us will never be relevant enough for privacy to be an issue.  We need to have some perspective and stop thinking *anyone* in the world cares if you checked in on foursquare, or commented how nice your vacation is.  I happily inform you (happy in that it’s freeing) that you simply… are not.. that big of a deal.

This is simply how it’s going to work.  It won’t be big brother silently judging you, although countless eyes will be aware of you – friendly ones crinkling into a smile as they effortlessly share their lives with you.  Of course, it’s not that we shouldn’t discuss and worry about privacy, but it’s a fact of life there will be a trade off – a tiny bit of inconsequential information about yourself for the ability to plug into “the matrix” and access the entirety of human information that has ever been documented, in a meaningful, relevant, and efficient manner.  Of course, we are sorry your ex saw a picture of you and your current beau on vacation.


Measuring Interaction

It’s great to be at this point.  It means the web will become more meaningful, but my issue is that there is still no way of really figuring out the impact.  It’s coming, and it will sort itself out.  But some of us ask questions, and keep busy with helping to understand the phenomenon.  For example, a property I am involved with had a few minor mentions on Facebook.  These are open profiles without privacy restrictions, so it is on public record and no issues of being prying or invasive.  I thought about it for a bit, and cannot see any issue with posting these link.  Look at these posts on Facebook, then consider the reactions, the conversation, about the brand, etc.

A jazz musician with 1300 friends mentions playing at the Allison.

Local Mom with a few friends passively mentions lunch at the Allison

Local Dad takes pics of dessert, and positive community reaction


The Future Starts Now (& has been happening for some time)

The “social search” side of this conversation is simply to lead us here… where I have my real questions, and where I would love your input.

I want to know what the value of those Facebook posts are, right there.  It’s obvious that social has massive equity, because they are beginning to dismantle the typical SEO methodologies like algorithms and static keywords in lieu of fresh content legitimized by the interaction of the social graph.  It’s pleasing to know we have taken the right direction with engaging the social network and building our brands while attempting to participate in and control our image and the conversation (in a modern sense, as best we can).  These 3 social Facebook interactions are undeniably more meaningful than a cold impression, but until there is some better method of tracking and measuring these comments, all we can do is be aware of them.  Twitter has a few tools, but nothing that leads the charge out of the impression model.  I am hoping we can eventually create something that would be able to track people as nodes or hubs or weak ties in geographic regions instead of simply looking at ip’s or url’s.  I am not looking to the old world marketing of finding an “influencer” so much as understanding the natural interactions as they ebb and flow in relation to your brand.  For more on Network Science, please read this informative and important article, “How Network Science Can Speed Up Your Success 10 to 20 times.”  It’s way ahead of it’s time, and it’s the next step in letting the argument of privacy jump the shark.

Our level of engagement is going to be more important in the future in a way that we can’t measure or perceive right now, and we are laying the groundwork to be heads and shoulders above other hotels in revelance and footprint.  Just as some hotels are *still* reeling from missing out on the SEO boom, some hotels & brands that think social is a joke will be in the same boat when the semantic web gains a stronger foothold.  It’s just – *how* will a brand’s engagement alter or impact a socially engaged search?


How Can You Learn More?

Next month, in San Francisco, there is a conference regarding Social Media Strategies for North America.  It is put on by Eye for Travel, one of the most respected Hospitality & Travel conference planner in the business.  It’s the 2nd & 3rd of March at Hotel Nikko.  There will be some of the best in the hospitality and travel business talking about these sort of issues and more.  It’s a chance to surround yourself with incredibly experienced and smart people about all these pressing issues.  I am really excited, and thought I would alert anyone about it who may come across this.  Sign ups are still going on *HERE*.


*One final thought if you actually have a little extra time.  This is a fascinating presentation (slow to start) on everything being cataloged as “miscellaneous”, because the established order of ordering is failing. It’s down here all the way at the bottom because it’s about an hour, and not completely relevant.  Fascinating, nonetheless.  It’s about relevance, which is obviously relevant in a discussion about relevance.  But who am I to assume it’s relevant to you?  Well, that was the social search graph is going to take care of.